Jorge Posada and the embodiment of Yankee pride
There is a certain morality to being a New York Yankee. It extends deeper than the clean-shaven, well-dressed, eloquent-tongued facade we see in public. It delves deeper even than the ubiquitous spectre of history guiding all that we see. To be a true Yankee takes more than these surface attributes. It requires a deep respect for the difficult game of baseball and a fiery pride in one’s identity, city and craft. It takes a natural, innate desire to win.
History is littered with men, such as the fine Derek Jeter, who have personified the traditional Yankee idea, but few have embodied with greater honour those sacrosanct Yankee ideals as Jorge Posada, the tough-as-nails, switch-hitting catcher who bestrode the Bronx for nearly two decades, demanding and delivering persistent success. Number 20 was different. He was the quintessential Yankee.
Childhood memories of Jorge Posada
I most remember his aura. He seemed to be operating on a different, higher plane to everybody else, accorded the courtesy and respect of an all-time great. At 6-foot-2, Jorge was far from small, but his baseball intelligence and his thrilling sagacious knowingness helped him appear larger than life.
When watching Posada, one always felt that he understood baseball better than anybody, that he was somehow immune to its notorious ability to make people fail. A wise man, he nevertheless appreciated that baseball can be the most difficult of games and, accordingly, he set about playing it with maximum effort, ultimate pride and a relentless intensity.
I fondly recall Posada’s compact, studious swing, which made baseballs spring and leap through the air. I remember his indomitable defence, preventing runs and saving games, in addition to his subtle striking of equipoise between calling an objective game and handling a pitching staff with the dexterity of an accomplished leader.
Jorge had it all, and he was a pleasure to watch.
Jorge Posada stats and facts
A converted second baseman, the potent Puerto Rican became an exceptional catcher, the like of which we are unlikely to see again. Posada made five All-Star teams, earned five Silver Slugger awards as the best offensive player at this position, and won four World Series championships as the archetypal Yankee.
A lifetime .273 hitter, Jorge also clubbed 275 home runs, drove in 1,065 runs and smacked 379 doubles during his illustrious, 17-year career, spent entirely in pinstripes. Only five catchers in baseball history have managed at least 1,500 hits, 350 doubles, 275 homers and 1,000 RBI: Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.
An integral part of the Core Four of homegrown superstars who carried New York to a modern dynasty, Posada hit 20 or more home runs eight times, cracked 20 or more doubles eleven times, and in 2007, hit .338/.426/.543 at the age of 35.
In a historical sense, he belongs to the hallowed lineage of Yankee catchers, extending from Bill Dickey through Elston Howard and Yogi Berra onto Thurman Munson. However, along with the aforementioned Rodriguez, Mike Piazza and Jason Varitek, Jorge also redefined what it meant to be a catcher in the contemporary age. These play-calling, standard-bearing, offensive juggernauts represented a departure from tradition and wrote their own compendium to a special epoch in the game’s history.
There are those who called Posada a hot head during his pomp, and those who misinterpreted his intensity as typical Yankee arrogance. However, these views are wide of the mark. Admittedly, Jorge had his fair share of tussles and bouts of verbal sparring, more often than not with Pedro Martinez, but it is important to ask why?
A majority of Posada’s more animated moments were derived of a unique willingness to uphold the sanctity of baseball, and a thorough craving to win games. To criticise his approach, his fiery and competitive emotion, is to excoriate the very makeup that made him so great, so classy and so enjoyable to watch. Jorge Posada played with a volcano in his belly, and I really like that.
Jorge Posada and The Core Four
So did Yankee scout Leon Wurth, who discovered Posada as a raw teenager toiling on the Calhoun Community College team in 1990. The Puerto Rican son of a Cuban father and Dominican mother, Jorge overcame a lot just to earn that shot in Decatur, Alabama. His SAT scores were too low to enrol in any four-year college programme. He encountered racial prejudice from classmates at the one school that gave him a chance. He did not fit in.
Yet on the ball field, the bat was brilliant, the arm amazing and the mentality mesmeric. Even then, Posada played hard, with emotion spewing out of every pore. Wurth thought him a potential Yankee and convinced beleaguered general manager Pete Peterson to select Posada in the 24th round of the 1990 MLB Draft. In retrospect, the $30,000 signing bonus the Yankees granted Jorge amounted to a shrewd down payment on a future empire.
If Jeter was the signatory flag atop the modern Yankee fortress, Mariano Rivera was the protective moat and impenetrable wall. If Bernie Williams was the decorative interior adding layer upon layer of niceties, Andy Pettite was the draw bridge making dreams accessible. Jorge Posada? Well, he was the bedrock, the fire providing warmth and solace, the cement between the bricks.
It takes time for cement to set. Accordingly, Posada didn’t so much rifle through the Yankees’ depth chart as slowly crawl along, tiptoeing into contention, learning from the best and ultimately ascending to power.
In 1995, he caught one regular season game and pinch-hit in the American League Division Series. In 1996, he saw action in eight September games and was a non-roster bystander as New York powered past the Braves for world championship number twenty-three. In 1997, Posada succeeded Jim Leyritz as the backup to Joe Girardi, a fitting Yankee himself.
Posada learned a lot from Girardi, who mentored him not only in the finer technicalities of big league catching, but also in the more sequestered minutiae of leading the most storied sports franchise in the world’s preeminent city. The duo shared playing time over the subsequent three years, with Posada, already distinguished as a magnificent receiver and improving all the while at the plate, gradually eating into Girardi’s status as lead backstop.
In 1998, Jorge hit .268 with 17 home runs, 23 doubles and 63 RBI as the Yankees won another ring. That year, he caught most of the major contests, including David Wells’ perfect game and the clinching World Series victory.
Posada saw more playing time in 1999 as the Bombers successfully defended their crown. When Girardi departed via free agency immediately after the season, Jorge assumed sole possession of the mantle. Rather than wilting in the spotlight or buckling under the pressure, he came out fighting like the true warrior within. The 2000 season, his first as an everyday player, was an undeniable success. Posada belted 28 dingers, laced 35 doubles, drove in 86 runs and slashed .287/.417/.527 in 151 games.
That year’s World Series was arguably the most absorbing of modern times. Of course, the Yankees took part, satisfying their natural birth right. The crosstown Mets stood in opposition. A Subway Series. The 96th Fall Classic. A titanic duel between Pettitte and Leiter, Clemens and Hampton, Posada and Piazza. A joust for the heart of a city and the acknowledgement of a nation. A fight to consolidate records, affirm reputations and capture favour in the future race to evaluate epochs.
The Yankees won in five, hoisting a third straight title and a fourth title in five seasons. Posada was on the field to celebrate the final out, consumed in a maelstrom of joyous Yankees. With his third ring in four full big league seasons, he etched his name into the record books. He still had eleven years of productive baseball left ahead of him.
Why Jorge Posada was one of the greatest catchers in baseball history
During those years, Posada confirmed his credentials as a certifiable star. Each year, he hit more and with more power. Each year, he became increasingly polished with the glove. Each year, he inched forward in the Yankee hierarchy until, by the late 2000s, he was the commander in chief alongside Jeter.
Posada set the tone and moderated the behaviour of rosters packed with big names and bigger egos. On teams including Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and many other magnets of controversy and attention, Jorge stood forth with immense confidence and determination. As he saw it, nobody was larger than the ballclub. Nobody meant more than the pinstripes.
Posada always demanded the very best of everything, from himself and from others. The best attitude. The best approach. The best comportment. Similarly, he yearned for continual improvement, hence five straight years of improved RBI totals, from 57 in 1999 to 101 in 2003, a year in which he finished third in American League MVP voting behind only A-Rod and Carlos Delgado.
In the twelve-year stretch between 2000 and 2011, Posada compiled more RBI and home runs than any other catcher in the game. In 2007, aged 35, he became the only catcher in history to hit at least .330 with at least 40 doubles, 20 homers and 90 RBI.
Posada belongs to a pantheon of all-time great catchers. He hit more homers than Campanella, scored more runs than Hartnett, and got on base more than Berra. In every way, he belongs to that legendary realm. Yet his standing in Yankee lore makes Jorge truly immortal. In most every statistical category for Yankee catchers, he ranks in the top five and, when the other four guys are Yogi, Bill, Thurman and Elston? Well, that speaks for itself.
How Jorge Posada became the Yankees’ leader
When the Yankees moved across 161st Street into their new $1.5 billion ballpark, Posada served as an invaluable conduit, a funnel through which all the accumulated tradition and heritage trickled from the old to the new.
With heart, passion and sterling Yankee rectitude, he helped gather all the memories, package all the boxes, load all the feeling and transplant it a couple hundred yards across the road. For a fawning fanbase misty-eyed at the loss of their fabled citadel, Jorge Posada was a saviour.
At the new Stadium, the padded seats and additional legroom took some getting used. Fans cherished old Yankee Stadium as a tattered family heirloom, and the newer model at first seemed somewhat clinical and corporate. But in Posada and Jeter and Rivera and Pettitte, the denizens of New York had a group of familiar sons in whom to believe and on whom to rest.
Jorge got right to work replanting the seeds of Yankee Mystique, launching the first regular season home run in the new ballpark. All summer long, he played with a fervour, as if determined to illustrate for a new generation - with names like Teixeira, Cano and Gardner - exactly how to be a New York Yankee.
In the waning days of George M Steinbrenner III, the ballclub to which he gave so much, and for which he built a stadium at the cutting edge of modern architecture, delivered one of its most accomplished seasons of all. The 2009 Yankees won 103 regular season games, powered past the Twins and Angels to secure their 40th American League pennant, then proceeded to trump the Phillies in the World Series, christening the new ballpark with a 27th title in franchise history.
Posada had his fourth ring.
Why Jorge Posada should be in the Hall of Fame
The obsequious catcher played two more years, managing despite cranky knees and tight hamstrings to add yet more to his glowing legacy. In June 2010, he became the first Yankee since Dickey to launch grand slams in consecutive games. A few weeks later, he recorded the 1,000th RBI of his career. Only eleven other Yankees have reached that plateau: Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jeter, Williams, Dickey, Lazzeri and Mattingly. Seven wound up in the Hall of Fame, with another undoubtedly on the way.
Jorge will be eligible for Hall of Fame election in 2017, having retired aged thirty-nine following the 2011 season. Mariano and Andy will be eligible in 2019, with Derek in 2020. It would be the most fitting token of gratitude if Posada were there to welcome them, support them, and guide them in Cooperstown as he did in the Bronx.
Jorge Posada, the 52nd New York Yankee in the Hall of Fame.
You know it makes sense.
Get the Pinstripe Galaxy book!
Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!